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Meet the City’s new Poet Laureate at S.F. Creative Writing Institute!

The San Francisco Creative Writing Institute is proud to announce that our own Tongo Eisen-Martin has been named as the next Poet Laureate of San Francisco.

Mayor London Breed and City Librarian Michael Lambert made the announcement on Friday that Tongo, a native of Bernal Heights who’s taught poetry at the S.F. Creative Writing Institute for the past year, will become the eighth artist to hold the two-year honor. He was nominated by a nine-member Selection Committee and will succeed Poet Laureate Kim Shuck, who’s also taught poetry at the S.F. Creative Writing Institute.

Tongo is the founder of Black Freighter Press and his book, Heaven Is All Goodbyes (City Lights, Pocket Poet series), received a 2018 American Book Award, the 2018 California Book Award for Poetry, and was short-listed for the Griffin Poetry Prize. Born and raised in San Francisco, he spent his childhood at the Western Addition Cultural Center, now the African American Arts and Culture Complex, and writes of organizing poetry circles in the Tenderloin, Bayview-Hunters Point and Sunnydale and recruiting and nurturing artists from the city’s marginalized communities.

“I and my poetry are an absolute product of every nook and cranny of San Francisco. It is the city’s cultural institutions, chartered in ink, demonstration, spirit, and bloodline, that taught me how to relate to the world,” he said. “As deep into the various communities of the city as our poets have already brought the craft, I want to push even further into places where poetry has not yet permeated. Give poetry even more of a mass personality; as mass participation has always been the staple of what could be described as San Francisco futurism.”

Tongo is an educator who has taught at detention centers around the country and at the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University, where his curriculum on the extrajudicial killing of Black people, “We Charge Genocide Again!” has been used as an educational and organizing tool throughout the country. His not-yet-titled second book in the City Lights Pocket Poet series will be released in the fall of 2021. He was also a Poet-in-Residence at Cambridge University.
“I’m thrilled to see Mr. Eisen-Martin receive this recognition, as he is among the most exciting poets of a generation and we are so lucky to have him here in San Francisco,” said City Librarian Michael Lambert. “He will be a remarkable and inspiring Poet Laureate, a perfect and outstanding addition to our city’s long and flourishing literary tradition.”

Come meet the new Poet Laureate this month! 

Tongo is holding a $30 Drop-In Poetry Workshop on January 25. Our monthly Drop-in Poetry Workshops are one-off, three-hour sessions taught by a variety of talented instructors with different styles and themes. Poets of all levels are invited to join us for inspiration, lessons & techniques, generative prompts, sharing and feedback. 

Drop-ins are a great way to get a sense of different instructors’ styles before committing to a longer workshop, or for some spontaneous support and encouragement. Whether you’re new to poetry or a published poet, our drop-in workshops are a great way to connect with a thriving writing community online. 

To attend this workshop, book your seats now ( and to sign up for one of Tongo’s classes with us, click here



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Landing a Literary Agent

By Nick Mamatas

The best way to find agents is by starting with writers who have recently commercially published something similar to your own book. Use search engines, or the acknowledgment pages of their books, to create a list of twenty-five agents

Then break that list of 25 into 5 groups of 5, based basically on how important/prominent the agents are. Do whatever those five agents say—if they want a query or sample chapters or whatever, just comply. They’ll probably want slightly different things.

Six weeks later, hit the second list of five. Six weeks after that, the next five.

After the second draft, you’ll probably start getting answers. Some may ask for the whole ms on “exclusive”—90 days or so to think about it. If the agent is very good, give it to them. If not, keep on sending more packages out.

While you are doing this, work on your next book, as the response you get from an agent might just be, “Not this one, but do you have anything else?” And you want to be able to answer “YES.”

If at the end of 25 agents you get 25 form rejections, something is dreadfully wrong with your book. If you get a lot of positive responses, but no agent, take a little break and try again with that second book. If you got an agent, you have an agent!

Now as far as agents go, good agents:

  • generally speaking, have a New York office
  • have clients you’ve heard of
  • have clients whose books you can find by walking into a Barnes and Noble and looking (and you should go to a B&N and look)
  • are enthusiastic about you, not just about the single book you are pitching
  • do not also work for or as a packager
  • do not charge reading fees or any other out-of-pocket expenses except perhaps for international mailing of published books to foreign agents or publishers—and those charges will be subtracted from foreign sales monies
  • do not generally charge more than 15% commission
  • have no independent interest in your stuff—that is, they’re not also a film producer and want to make a side deal with you, etc.

*Nick Mamatas originally published this on his FB page to help out fellow writers. We asked him for permission to publish it here because we thought it was good advice.